in the News
Laboratory garners five R&D 100 awards
Livermore researchers turned in another strong showing in the annual R&D 100 awards competition, winning five awards. Each year, R&D Magazine presents these awards to the top 100 industrial, high-technology inventions submitted to its competition.
The five Livermore inventions honored are as follows:
• Microelectromechanical System–Based Adaptive Optics Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope, an instrument developed in conjunction with five universities and Boston Micromachines Corporation, will enable clinicians to image microscopic structures of the living eye, such as individual photoreceptors and ganglion cells, and measure aberrations.
• Noninvasive Pneumothorax Detector is a handheld device designed to detect pneumothorax or collapsed lung, which if not promptly diagnosed and treated, can cause death within minutes.
• Continuous-Phase-Plate Optics with Magnetorheological Finishing, developed in conjunction with Zygo Corporation of Middlefield, Connecticut, and QED Technologies of Rochester, New York, is a precise system for fine-tuning the laser beam of kilojoule- and megajoule-class laser systems such as the National Ignition Facility.
• Large-Area Imager provides mobile radiation detection and imaging, allowing investigators to detect and interdict illicit nuclear materials.
• Hypre is a software library designed to solve the extremely large systems of linear equations that form the primary bottleneck to many large-scale computer simulations, enabling researchers using supercomputers such as BlueGene/L and ASC Purple to conduct simulations faster than ever before.
S&TR will devote its October issue to detailed reports on these award-winning inventions and the teams that created them.
Contact: Roger Werne (925) 423-7302 (email@example.com).
Adaptive optics illuminates black holes
Observations using a Laboratory-built laser at the W. M. Keck Observatory allowed Livermore researchers to pinpoint the location and composition of two supermassive black holes more than 300 million light years from Earth. Supermassive black holes have the mass of millions or even billions of suns and are thought to exist in the center of most galaxies, including the Milky Way.
The two black holes observed by the Livermore team are about 2,500 light years apart and are drifting toward one another. As their home galaxies collide, the pair will eventually merge into one even larger supermassive black hole. Results from this research appeared in the June 29, 2007, edition of Science.
The observations at Keck Observatory lend support to the theory that black holes at the center of galaxies reach their immense mass through mergers with other nearby black holes. Scientists are interested in studying galaxy mergers so they can better understand how galaxies evolve and what role black holes play in the process.
The technologies making these observations possible are adaptive optics, which corrects for the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere, and the Livermore-developed artificial laser guide star, which allows adaptive optics to be used over a large fraction of the sky. The images produced are 10 times clearer than those produced with conventional imaging techniques.
Contact: Claire Max (925) 423-6290 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Reconstructing prehistoric fur seal behavior
In a collaborative study, researchers from Livermore’s Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Washington, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Environmental Protection Agency, and Stanford University used nitrogen and carbon analysis to solve a puzzle previously raised by California’s fossil record of northern fur seals. Today, these seals live and breed at high latitudes, mostly on islands in the Bering Sea. However, anthropological studies show that northern fur seals once bred in temperate latitude regions of California, the Pacific Northwest, and the eastern Aleutian Islands. The researchers found that northern fur seals in California were not visitors from other breeding grounds, but rather were year-round residents.
By studying the differences in nitrogen isotopic content found in the ancient bones, the scientists also determined that northern fur seals from breeding colonies in temperate latitudes weaned at a much older age than their modern counterparts, which are typically weaned at four months. Paired analysis of the stable carbon and nitrogen allowed the researchers to estimate where the seals were feeding in the ocean. They were able to reconstruct the species’ prehistoric range and see changes in biogeography and behavior over longer timescales than previously was possible.
“The analysis demonstrates that northern fur seals had more temperate-latitude breeding colonies in the past, with breeding populations in California, the Pacific Northwest, and the eastern Aleutian Islands,” says Tom Guilderson of Livermore. “In addition, these populations used a different reproductive strategy than modern populations.” The team’s results appeared in the
June 5, 2007, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Contact: Tom Guilderson (925) 422-1753 (email@example.com).
Study shows how dormant bacterial spores awaken
Collaborative research led by Livermore scientists Marco Plomp and Alexander Malkin revealed the alterations that occur in the spore coat and germ cell wall of bacterial spores when they break out of their dormant state and reenter the vegetative mode of replication. The study, which included researchers from Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and Northwestern University, will help scientists better understand the spore germination process and develop countermeasures for spore-mediated diseases, such as botulism, gas gangrene, and pulmonary anthrax.
When Bacillus cells are starved of nutrients, their rod-shaped cells undergo a series of genetic, biochemical, and structural changes that create metabolically dormant spores. These dormant spores are not affected or destroyed by exposure to high temperatures, radiation, or toxic chemicals. When favorable conditions reoccur, the spores will germinate and replicate.
The Livermore-led study used atomic force microscopy (AFM) to examine single germinating spores of Bacillus atrophaeus
in vitro. The AFM images showed with unprecedented resolution how the spore coat breaks down and how the new bacterium emerges from a disintegrating spore. In examining the disassembly of the outer spore coat, the researchers found that the bacteria’s rodlet structures are similar to amyloid fibrils, which are associated with neural degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The team’s results appeared in the June 5, 2007, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Contact: Alexander Malkin (925) 423-7817 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
New insight into crystal structures of actinide metals
Results from a study involving Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge national laboratories and Daresbury Laboratory in the United Kingdom are helping researchers better understand how the crystal structure of some metals becomes stable through magnetism. Magnetic stabilization of a metal’s crystal structure is rare. However, in a few metals such as manganese, iron, and cobalt, the magnetic interaction energy is high enough to change the crystal structure. Previous studies also indicate that the heavy actinide element curium belongs in this category. When curium is placed under pressures of up to 100 kilopascals, it will transform between five crystal phases.
The Livermore-led collaboration took the previous research one step further. In this study, the researchers combined transmission electron microscopy, electron atomic calculations, and density functional theory to probe the electronic and magnetic structure of curium.
The results are indicative of Hund’s rule, a principle of atomic chemistry. According to Hund’s rule, the lowest energy state of an atom has large spin polarization with the maximal number of electrons in the outer shell unpaired and aligned in spin. This spin state dictates the crystal structure of curium under pressure and its magnetic properties. Results from the team’s research were published in the June 8, 2007, issue of Physical Review Letters.
Contact: Kevin Moore (925) 422-9741 (email@example.com).
Scientists improve electron-emission devices
A collaboration involving Livermore researchers may have found a way to improve electron-emission devices such as flat-panel displays and electron microscopes. This study, which included scientists from Stanford University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chevron Technology Ventures LLC, and Justus-Liebig University Giessen, examined the photoemitted electrons from monolayers of diamondoids on metal electrodes. Diamondoids are molecules with cage structures where the carbon atoms can be superimposed on bulk diamond lattice positions. These diamond nanoclusters are terminated at the surface by hydrogen.
Previous calculations and experiments on diamondoids predicted that the molecules would have a negative electron affinity, with the lowest unoccupied states at the surface of the clusters. These results motivated scientists to explore electron emission from diamondoids because the molecules offer the potential to combine the properties of diamond surfaces and nanomaterials.
For the Livermore-led study, researchers chemically modified pure diamondoids to form a uniform, well-ordered, layer of the diamond nanoclusters on gold and silver surfaces. The observed emitted energy spectrum—an intense monochromatic electron photoemission—confirms that diamondoids are negative-electron affinity materials.
Livermore researcher Trevor Willey, who worked on this study, says, “Our results suggest that diamondoid monolayers may eventually be used in devices that depend on highly efficient, monochromatic electron emission.” The study’s results were published in the June 8, 2007, issue of Science.
Contact: Trevor Willey (925) 424-6084 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Proton therapy made more accessible to cancer patients
Livermore’s compact proton therapy system, which was developed in collaboration with the University of California (UC) Davis Cancer Center, has been licensed to TomoTherapy, Inc., of Madison, Wisconsin. TomoTherapy will fund development of the first clinical prototype, which will be tested on cancer patients at the UC Davis Cancer Center. If clinical testing is successful, TomoTherapy will bring the machines to market. These compact units are designed to fit in any major cancer center and cost one-fifth as much as a full-scale proton therapy machine.
Proton therapy is the most advanced form of radiation therapy available. In cancer research, this treatment yielded disease-free survival rates comparable to those of surgery or conventional radiation but with minimal to no side effects. Unfortunately, the size and cost of proton therapy machines have limited the technology’s use to only six cancer centers nationwide.
The proton therapy system developed by Livermore is a
spin-off from a defense-related project. This compact machine
will accelerate proton particles to an energy of at least
200 megaelectronvolts within a lightweight, insulator-based structure about 2 meters long. The system under development
will also allow researchers to vary the energy, intensity, and spot size of the proton beam used to treat tumors.
Contact: George Caporaso (925) 422-7852 (email@example.com).
Livermore a partner at bioenergy research center
Lawrence Livermore, in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley and Sandia national laboratories, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and Stanford University, will operate one of three new Department of Energy (DOE) bioenergy research centers. Funded by DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research Genomics:GTL Program in the Office of Science, the new center will be known as the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and is expected to receive
$125 million in DOE funding over the next five years.
Livermore scientists will support the basic research at JBEI, which will focus on producing biofuels from cellulosic materials. In particular, the Laboratory’s microbiologists and biochemists will collaborate with researchers at UC Davis to look for new lignocellulose-degrading enzymes in natural microbial communities found in compost. Experts in computational biology will analyze the regulatory networks in microbial communities that effectively process lignocellulosic biomass. Laboratory scientists will also study the genetics and metabolism of microbes that produce long-chain hydrocarbons and explore the possibility of developing practical sources of nonethanol liquid fuels.
Livermore will use its secondary ion mass spectrometry imaging capabilities to examine cell-wall structure and degradation dynamics. In addition, the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry will provide accelerator-based isotope measurements and ion-beam microbe analysis. Finally, the Livermore MicroArray Center will provide JBEI with technology to rapidly synthesize DNA-based microarrays and will perform subsequent analyses to provide data relating to gene expression.
Contact: Henry Shaw (925) 423-4645 (firstname.lastname@example.org).